Researchers of the Nazi Holocaust say that on the eve of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the Western world is in a similar position to that of Nazi Germany when it hosted the Games 85 years ago: authoritarian dictatorships try to use the Games for self-glorification, democracies take a middle-of-the-road approach without a full-scale boycott, and in the end, the moral burden of denouncing human rights abuses by totalitarian governments falls on the shoulders of the athletes who compete.
History is repeating itself
“Host countries then and now see the Olympics as an opportunity to enhance their public image. 1936 Adolf Hitler was eager to be seen by the world as part of a civilized society. Today’s Communist leaders also want to be seen as legitimate and acceptable members of the international community.” Rafael Medoff, founding director of the Washington-based David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, told Voice of America.
Medoff, while acknowledging that the Biden administration’s diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is “a step in the right direction,” described it as a “small step. Because “the diplomatic rituals are actually the least important part of the Olympics, and the athletes are the part that everyone cares about.”
Medoff said, “I fear that a very small symbolic diplomatic boycott by the international community today will send a message again to the totalitarian regime, to the Chinese Communist Party leaders, that the world doesn’t really care about the genocide of the Uighurs, the suppression of free speech in Hong Kong. That would send a terrible message.”
Medoff noted that because the U.S. government has adopted the middle-way measure “the moral burden is now shifted to the athletes – just as it was in 1936.”
That year, when the Roosevelt administration refused to boycott the Olympics in Nazi Germany that year, U.S. Jewish organizations, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other groups called on American athletes to refuse to travel to Berlin to protest the persecution of German Jews. But Medoff said only a handful of athletes responded.
U.S. athletes competing in Winter Olympics: “To remain silent is to be complicit”
With the Beijing Winter Olympics just under two months away, no U.S. athletes have yet expressed plans to boycott the Games by not personally participating, or to publicly express their plans to use the opportunity to protest Beijing’s egregious human rights violations.
But U.S. biathlete Clare Egan, who trains in Austria, said in a phone interview that “to remain silent is to be complicit,” New York Times sportswriter KURT STREETER reported Monday.
Streeter said, “Egan is one of the few athletes at this Winter Olympics who is willing to talk to me openly about China. Several athletes either refused my questions outright or told me they could only talk about it privately for fear of retaliation. One of the competitors expressed concerns about security at the Games and said the host country’s recent record of quelling critics underscores the need to proceed with caution.”
Enes Kanter Freedom, a U.S. NBA professional basketball player and Boston Celtics center from the authoritarian country of Turkey, is by far one of the most critical American athletes of China’s human rights abuses and the International Olympic Committee.
In an interview with CNN, he criticized the IOC’s ambiguous relationship with Beijing: “There’s genocide going on as we speak right now. It’s a disgrace to the IOC that they are sleeping in the same bed as China, which is organizing the Olympics. The Olympics are being held in China, where there is almost a dictatorship.”